Postdoctoral research

Funded postdoctoral positions will be advertised here, on the University of St Andrews vacancies page and on jobs.ac.uk. Researchers who wish to apply for an independent postdoctoral fellowship to join the lab should contact Dr MacNeill to discuss possible projects well in advance of the application deadline.

Postgraduate study

PhD study: Fully-funded PhD studentships in the lab are advertised on FindPhD. PhD studentships fully funded by the School of Biology (only) are currently available to students of all nationalities. Studentships funded by other funding bodies may be subject to geographical restrictions. Prospective students who intend to self-fund their studies are welcome to contact Dr MacNeill at any time to discuss possible projects. Partial or complete fee waivers may be available for well-qualified students who are able to cover their own living costs.

MSc(Res) study: The MSc(Res) is a 12 month full-time research degree that is assessed on the basis of a 30,000 word thesis. Projects for MSc(Res) research are advertised on this page and on the School of Biology website. Interested students should contact Dr MacNeill to discuss potential projects prior to submitting a formal application. Partial fee waivers for exceptionally well-qualified students are also possible with this degree. Current fee levels can be seen here.

Potential MSc(Res) projects

Eukaryotic chromosome replication and genome stability

In all forms of life, successful chromosomal DNA replication is essential for maintaining genome integrity. Defective replication impacts genome structure and information content in a variety of ways, including sequence deletion, insertion and duplication, point mutation and chromosome fusion. Research in the MacNeill lab is focused on understanding molecular mechanisms of eukaryotic genome stability at the molecular level, for the most part using the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe and the thermophilic fungal species Chaetomium thermophilum as model systems for molecular genetic and structural studies, respectively. An MSc(Res) project in this area will allow the student to gain vital experience in a wide variety of techniques encompassing cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry and structural biology, providing an excellent preparation for future PhD studies in genome stability.

Exploring the enzymes and mechanisms of chromosomal DNA replication in the archaea

Highly-efficient chromosomal DNA replication is essential for all forms of life. The archaeal replication machinery represents a simplified version of that found in eukaryotic cells but exhibits a number of intriguing features that shed light on how eukaryotic replication evolved. Our research has focused on using the genetically tractable haloarchaeal organisms Haloferax volcanii and Haloarcula hispanica as models for dissecting archaeal DNA replication. An MSc(Res) project in this area would likely involve genetic manipulation of Haloferax volcanii or Haloarcula hispanica to explore molecular mechanisms of chromosome replication in these organisms. To complement these studies, the student would likely also undertake biochemical and/or structural analysis of archaeal replication proteins.

Genome engineering of bacteriophage T5

Bacteriophage T5 is a model E. coli-infecting lytic phage with a 121 kb linear double-stranded DNA genome that is arranged into pre-early, early and late transcription units, encoding in total around 160 proteins and 20-25 tRNAs. The genomes of over 100 T5-like bacteriophages have now been sequenced – these display a high level of genetic synteny, highlighting the importance of this conserved genetic organisation for successful phage infection. We have recently developed efficient methods for editing the T5 genome. This has allowed us to delete non-essential genes from the genome, and to insert non-T5 genes into the genome, but at all times respecting the pre-existing genetic organisation. An MSc(Res) project in this area would exploit the genome editing tools to ask wider questions about the genetic structure of T5, in order to gain an understanding of the importance of genetic organisation in the T5 life cycle. Issues to be addressed might include the importance of transcription unit orientation, or gene order within transcription units, or temporal expression, for successful infection.

Structure and functional characterisation of highly diverged DNA ligases

DNA ligases are essential enzymes in all forms of life on Earth and are a cornerstone of recombinant DNA technology. This MSc(Res) project will explore the properties of highly diverged and previously unstudied ATP-dependent ligase enzymes, with a view to uncovering enzymes with enhanced biochemical properties suitable for biotech applications. The project will focus on enzymes encoded by diverse bacteriophages, eukaryotic viruses and cellular organisms. Enzymes will be expressed and purified in recombinant form and tested for stability and activity under a range of conditions and on different substrates. The project will serve as an excellent introduction to recombinant DNA technology, protein expression and purification, and nucleic acid biochemistry.

There is no deadline for applications. Interested students should contact Dr Stuart MacNeill.

Visiting students

The lab frequently hosts visiting Bachelors, Masters and PhD students from elsewhere in the UK, mainland Europe and beyond who wish to gain experience of working in a different environment, with a different model organism or with a different experimental system. If you are interested in coming to the lab, contact Dr MacNeill to discuss possibilities.

Summer students

Undergraduate students wishing to spend the Summer in the lab and who are eligible for vacation studentship funding from the Biochemical SocietyMicrobiology SocietyGenetics SocietyWellcome Trust or other funding bodies should contact Dr MacNeill to discuss possible projects. Note that the deadlines for applying for these studentships are typically in late January or mid-February and that students should be in the middle year of their first degree. Undergraduate students who are able to support themselves without the need for external funding are also welcome, although space is inevitably limited.